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Learning in person returns to Lakewood schools

a young girl is dropped off at school and greeted by the principal
“Great!” was Cougar Creek Elementary School teacher Jayanna Haskell’s immediate response to how in-person learning is going at her school. Initiated in phases, students in kindergarten, first and second grades started in late January. Third through fifth graders joined in-person learning in mid-February. Plans are underway for middle and high school students to return in March.

“It’s so good to see all of them,” she said with a smile. “After watching them on the computer screen these past few months, I had forgotten how small first graders are.” Haskell added that she sees the joy on her students’ faces as they talk to each other and enjoy being among their peers again.

The right time to return
Like schools in many parts of the country, COVID-19 forced instruction to move online in early 2020. About 250 Lakewood students, from Pre-K to seniors in special programs, were welcomed back to classrooms for specialized instruction starting in October.

As we learned more about the virus, there was greater confidence that it was the right time to return to in-person learning.

We hired four additional primary school teachers. A few changed teaching assignments to ensure small class sizes. Some school spaces were re-purposed into classrooms to accommodate social distancing.

No state funding is available for new staff or setting up new classrooms. In the past, these costs would have been funded by the local Educational Programs and Operations Levy. Renewal of this levy was not approved by voters in 2020. To address this critical need for early learners, funding came from the school district’s fund balance (savings account).

Back to "what we're all about"
“It is such a sense of calm to get back to what we’re all about,” said Kim Caldwell, the principal at Lakewood Elementary School. Caldwell explained staff, families and students had plenty of questions about how in-person learning would be safe.

“We spent months planning and thinking through every process,” said Michele Ricci, English Crossing Elementary School principal. She added that the most important part of all the new routines is how each one helps students make as much growth as possible – academically as well as in their social and emotional development – while remaining healthy.

Given how important a foundation this early learning provides, students in kindergarten, first and second grade classes attend in-person four days a week with online instruction on the fifth day. Classrooms serving students in grades 3-5 split their students into two schedules to ensure social distancing. Half of the class attends Monday and Tuesday and the other half on Thursday and Friday. They, too, will have 1 day of online instruction on Wednesday and plenty of learning activities to do on their own when their group is not learning in person.

Unlike many area districts, overall student enrollment in Lakewood remains steady. A few families chose to move to online learning rather than in-person instruction and some that were online chose to attend in-person. “Everybody is different,” Haskell said. “Lakewood did a great job respecting those differences.”

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